The Right Tool for the Job

Melody Arabo

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

Curriculet is tagged as “the best independent reading program available. Period.” But does it live it up to its promise? Let’s take a look at its key strengths and weaknesses.

Organization and content

Curriculet’s content is organized logically and is well written and clear, for students and teachers alike. However, though there is a basic search function to locate book titles, it could be greatly improved by enhanced sorting and refining options (such as filtering by individual grade and cost simultaneously).

Because the books come from reputable publishers, I found all of them to be high quality and age appropriate (they are digital versions of the same books that can be bought in bookstores). There are a wide range of text types, as called for by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and the questions and tasks are very text dependent (that is, they require students to refer back to the text to answer). Unfortunately, Curriculet does not currently provide questions, videos, and...

 
 
Melody Arabo

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

It’s October and you’re finally settling in to the school year. You’ve gotten to know your students, assessed their reading levels, and planned diligently for instruction. Now you just need the right tools—more specifically, a range of text that can meet their needs. Enter Curriculet.

Curriculet is an online digital library of books and news articles intended to be used as independent reading to supplement any curriculum. According to its website, “More than 1,000,000 students and teachers in 10,000 schools love to learn and read on Curriculet,” and its resources are accessible on all devices. With books and articles geared toward grades 3–12, Curriculet strengthens a classroom library by offering online books and texts that teachers can individually or collectively assign to students. (Note: Curriculet was recently acquired by the Waterford Research Institute, a nonprofit edtech and research center. While all resources are still currently available, future plans for the site are forthcoming.)

Curriculet’s website has a clean and professional feel, with...

 
 
Shannon Garrison

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

The use of text sets is a promising instructional approach that is informed by solid research on reading comprehension. A text set is a collection of texts that are tightly focused on a specific topic. As described in this earlier post, it may include varied genres and media and can be organized in many different ways. But all high-quality text sets have this in common: they are designed to build knowledge of an academic topic and are presented in a specific order with attention to text complexity, vocabulary development, and background knowledge.

However, quality text sets are difficult to find and not easy to create, so identifying resources that can assist is invaluable. Newsela, ReadWorks, and Achieve the Core are three sites that all provide particularly high-quality text sets for use in the classroom. I have reviewed each of them previously, and you can find those reviews here, here, and here.

All three sites offer useful...

 
 
Shannon Garrison

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

It is rare to find an education website that provides classroom lessons, teacher planning tools, and professional development all in one place. Achieve the Core does this and more (see my earlier post). An especially impressive feature is its text sets, which are collections of texts organized around a specific topic that sequentially build students’ knowledge and skills.

Mindful that research indicates that text sets can improve students’ reading comprehension, I searched many sites for high-quality, comprehensive text sets. Those on Achieve the Core are among the best I have seen. They use a variety of quality texts, are specifically ordered to promote vocabulary development and build background knowledge, and provide teachers with classroom activities and guidance.

As described on the site, text sets are “lessons using a volume of reading on specific topics to support all learners in building background knowledge and vocabulary.” For teachers unfamiliar with this approach, Achieve the Core provides background information on how text sets build...

 
 
Shannon Garrison

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

Educators’ experiences with the Common Core State Standards vary depending on the state and district in which they teach. Some have ready access to solid resources and valuable support, while other teachers struggle to understand the new standards, the instructional shifts they encourage, and how to effectively implement them in their classrooms.

Achieve the Core is a website that provides educators everywhere with a myriad of resources to help implement the Common Core. The professional-development modules, classroom lessons, planning tools, student-writing samples, mathematics tasks, and assessments are exceptionally well designed and available at no cost. It is one-stop shopping for all things Common Core.

Achieve the Core offers “free, ready-to-use classroom resources designed to help educators understand and implement the Common Core and other college- and career-ready standards.” It is hosted by Student Achievement Partners, which is a nonprofit founded by the lead writers of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

All lessons on Achieve the Core are CCSS-aligned and specifically designed...

 
 
Shannon Garrison

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

While ReadWorks offers a huge array of reading comprehension resources for educators, two particularly promising features are its paired passages and text sets for grades K-12. The former consist of two passages with similar topics and/or themes, while the text sets are comprised of three or more passages that share a topic or theme. Both resources can be used to build vocabulary and background knowledge in order to strengthen student reading comprehension and content knowledge.

Paired Passages

ReadWorks provides teachers with paired passages to help build vocabulary and background knowledge around a specific topic. The reasoning behind each pairing is clearly stated and sets of questions that assess student learning and comprehension accompany each pair. Questions focus on each passage individually and then on the integration of knowledge from both passages.

For example, one 8th grade U.S. History text pair includes the passages Frederick Douglass: from Slavery to Freedom and Before Jackie: How Strikeout King Satchel Paige Struck Down Jim Crow. ReadWorks explains...

 
 
Shannon Garrison

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

We know the importance of students developing strong reading comprehension skills. Students need to be able to read and understand a variety of complex texts in order to be successful – in school, in their careers, and in life.

As a teacher, I am always looking for new and better ways to engage my students in reading. One recent find worth sharing is ReadWorks. This site provides teachers with passages, paired texts, text sets, lessons, comprehension units, and novel study units, all at no charge to the user. The materials are research-based, come from reputable sources, and are classroom ready.

ReadWorks Overview

ReadWorks is an education website that provides teachers with online, research-based units, lessons, and nonfiction and literary passages to help develop and strengthen student reading comprehension. As its website says, “ReadWorks is committed to solving the nation's reading comprehension crisis by giving teachers the research-proven tools and support they need to improve the academic achievement of their students.”

The...

 
 
Shannon Garrison

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

Newsela text sets

Although Newsela’s news articles and resource library are in high demand with educators struggling to meet the Common Core’s recommended balance of fiction and nonfiction texts, perhaps Newsela’s most distinctive feature is its text sets: collections of articles that focus on a similar topic, theme, or standard. This can be an effective way to build students’ background knowledge and vocabulary, which are both linked to increased reading comprehension (for more on text sets and their use, see here).

Newsela’s free text sets consist of articles, primary documents, and biographies focused on a specific topic. The site includes featured text sets, text sets for specific subjects, and paired texts, among other resources. The site allows teachers to save text sets, edit text sets by either adding or deleting articles, and create their own text sets by selecting from Newsela’s library of articles, biographies, speeches, and historical documents.

Teachers new to this instructional strategy can find a text set “toolkit” in...

 
 
Shannon Garrison

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

With the transition to the Common Core, one of the biggest challenges teachers face is finding high-quality, relevant, nonfiction texts. Many of the traditional reading programs do not have the balance of fiction and nonfiction for which the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) call, and as a result, a lot of teachers struggle to find the resources they need to effectively prepare students.

As a teacher, I have spent countless hours trying to find appropriate nonfiction texts that I can use with a classroom of diverse learners. I have struggled to find engaging articles that could be read by my English-language learners and still challenge those students who are reading above grade level. Thankfully, last year, I found Newsela.

Newsela overview

Newsela.com is an education website focused on building student reading comprehension by providing high-quality news articles and real-time assessments for students in grades 2–12. The site offers both a free version and a more extensive paid version called Newsela PRO. As many...

 
 
Shannon Garrison

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

The shift to the Common Core State Standards has ushered in a renewed focus on effective instructional techniques for reading instruction. As Common Core’s reading standards state, “To build a foundation for college and career readiness, students must read widely and deeply from among a broad range of high-quality, increasingly challenging literary and informational texts.” In this vein, teachers are seeking how best to engage their students in text analysis, ways to develop and utilize text-dependent questions and methods for integrating more complex texts, and for other effective strategies to strengthen students’ reading comprehension.

One promising instructional strategy, developed based on reading-comprehension research showing the importance of background knowledge and vocabulary, is text sets. Text sets are collections of texts tightly focused on a specific topic. They may include varied genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and so forth) and media (such as blogs, maps, photographs, art, primary-source documents, and audio recordings).

Text sets can be organized in many different ways. Although all high-quality text...

 
 

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